Once again when it comes to building an infrastructure project it is the public transport priority that is the first to suffer.
Government road-builders stand accused of undermining Auckland’s public transport effort by closing bus priority lanes for the Transport Agency’s $220 million upgrade of the Northwestern Motorway causeway.
Bus passengers complaining of delays between Pt Chevalier and Te Atatu are in for 2 years of misery while shoulder lanes on both sides of the motorway are closed for its marine causeway to be raised and widened.
“It’s atrocious,” said Te Atatu resident Carol Shannon while waiting to travel home from work in central Auckland, a trip she estimates is taking 50 per cent longer than scheduled. “I used to get home by 6.40pm but for the last month it has been taking until 7pm.”
Commuter Cedric Suifua said he suffered a “close to half-hour” delay getting home on Thursday, despite lighter traffic in the school holidays.
The immediate problem is the closure of a priority lane for buses and cars carrying two or more occupants along the on-ramp to the Northwestern Motorway from Great North Rd at Waterview, forcing traffic to queue along Great North Rd to Pt Chevalier.
Ritchies Transport chief Andrew Ritchie said that was causing delays of between 10 and 25 minutes in the evening travel peak.
Although the only westbound closure so far is that of the Waterview on-ramp priority lane, the agency intends shutting 640m of the bus shoulder lane on that side of the motorway from August 11. That is expected to stay closed for 2 years, although the agency hopes to open a wider and longer citybound bus lane in two years.
The onramp has been closed for a while now but it appears that in a few weeks the rest of the bus lane on the southern side of the motorway will close too. Of course this will mean that buses will be forced to travel along the motorway with the rest of the traffic, losing all time advantages it previously had. As you can see from this (blurry) webcam image taken not long ago, it means buses will be stuck in with a lot of cars and will likely be disastrous for patronage on bus routes that use the busway. Note: you can just make out two buses enjoying the bus lane to sail past the traffic.
Te Atatu MP Phil Tywford has suggested turning one existing lane into a HOV lane so buses and vehicles with multiple people can all use it to avoid some of the queues but the NZTA have dismissed this while Auckland Transports response is simply to add time to the bus timetables.
Labour’s spokesman on Auckland issues, Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford, cannot understand why the Transport Agency is not allocating one of the motorway’s three general traffic lanes in each direction to high-occupancy vehicles.
Transport Agency acting Auckland highways manager Steve Mutton said various options were being investigated, including Mr Twyford’s suggestion.
Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said western bus timetables were being reviewed to take account of “running time issues across the day – not just at peak times”.
This is really unacceptable and both agencies need to do more to ensure that bus users are not being treated like the least important users. If both agencies were smart they would take Phil’s suggestion and go a step further by putting some temporary changes in place to put more bus services along the motorway until the new network is rolled out to try and encourage people to use them. That might just get enough people off the road to avoid the motorway becoming even more of a parking lot in mornings and afternoons.
This isn’t the first time we have seen PT users treated badly by agencies. Last year we saw Transpower close a lane on the busway at certain points to enable them to drag cables through pipes that were installed when the busway was built while this year we saw them close the city-bound buslane on Fanshawe St to do the same. This forced buses to have to fight for spots with motorists even though 80% of the people travelling along Fanshawe St are doing so in a bus.
It seems it is sacrilege to even consider closing a vehicle lane yet if there is bus priority, it is the first to get the chop.
The massive TBM to be used to dig the tunnels at Waterview has arrived in Auckland and if you hadn’t seen already, the name picked was Alice after Alice in Wonderland. Here is the NZTA press release:
The giant machine known as Alice that will bore the tunnels for the Waterview Connection, sailed into Auckland at 4pm today (Monday, 22 July) after its three-week long voyage from China.
The tunnel boring machine (TBM) berthed at the Ports of Auckland’s Waitemata terminal on board the BBC Georgia, a container ship chartered for the voyage. Because of its size, it was dismantled for shipping and arrived like a giant meccano set, in 100 separate ‘bits’ including 20 containers of small parts.
“It’s a long awaited and exciting arrival marking the next phase to complete the country’s biggest roading project,” says the NZ Transport Agency’s State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker.
As the container ship berthed, it was greeted by Ngati Whatua elders and a 14 metre diameter art work – the same size as the TBM’s cutting head – that recognises both the cultural and future significance of the Waterview Connection.
Unloading the ship will start immediately and it will take 10 days to transport all the TBM’s parts to the project’s southern portal at Owairaka, where it will be reassembled.
Thirteen of the 100 loads will be over-sized and they will be moved at night to minimise disruption to other traffic. All roads being used for transport will remain open with the exception of the Sandringham Road extension and the Maioro Street southbound motorway on-ramp on two nights, which will allow trucks to access the construction site via a specially built haul route from the Southwestern Motorway (State Highway 20).
Alice is the 10th biggest machine of its kind in the world and it has been custom-built to bore twin tunnels 2.4km long and up to 45 metres deep to connect Auckland’s Northwestern (SH16) and Southwestern (SH20) with three lanes of traffic in each direction.
The $1.4 billion Waterview Connection is the biggest of several Transport Agency projects underway or planned to complete the Western Ring Route – an alternative motorway for Auckland that will improve city and regional transport links as part of the Government’s roads of national significance programme to help economic growth. It is being built by the Well-Connected Alliance comprising the NZ Transport Agency, McConnell Dowell, Fletcher, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Obayashi, Beca, and Tonkin&Taylor.
The tunnel boring machine was specifically designed for the Waterview geology by German company Herrenkencht and manufactured in China. It will then take three months to reassemble the giant machine, ready for tunnelling to start at the end of October.
The artwork mentioned is installed along the waterfront and gives an impression of the size of this machine.
While on Waterview, here is also a timelapse video of work at the site.
The NZTA have also put out some specific info about the specs of the TBM
- Cutting head diameter 14.4m
- Total length 87m
- Total weight 2200 tonnes or 3200 when the gantries are included
- Crew 15
- Top speed 80mm a minute or 0.0005km/h
- Expected daily progress 10m
- Cutting head power 8400 kW
- Cutting head speed 1.9 rpm maximum (1RPM for normal operations)
- Nominal torque 68,220 kN
Here is what the TBM looked like before it was disassembled for shipping.
With the massive tunnel boring machine nearly here, I thought I would go and check out progress on the project. The last images we saw from the project were aerial photos which helped to show the scale of the project. Unfortunately I don’t have the budget to hire out a helicopter so you will have to make do with photos from ground level.
First up I visited the new Richardson Rd bridge which will cross the motorway. The image below is looking south-east towards Maioro St where SH20 currently ends.
Here is from the other side of the road looking north-west.
Off Methuen Rd there is a lookout over the works around the Southern tunnel portal area (it is the green patch just to the left of the leftmost crane in the image above). The next image is from there looking east. The Richardson Rd bridge can just be made out in the distance. You can also see where the trench starts to descend into the ground.
And lastly the tunnel portal itself.
To give an indication about how deep the portal is, The parts in this image below from the Herald aren’t even visible in the image above.
Unfortunately there wasn’t really anywhere I could easily stop for a photo of the progress at the Northern portal end. Waterview is such a massive project and even though it is a road, it is one that I do support being completed. My biggest gripe so far is that unlike the Maioro St interchange, it appears that the NZTA, most likely in consultation with Kiwirail have gone and repeated what happened at Dominion Rd by not building and extra span under the road to allow for a future rail line. I’m almost certain the space has been left for it to happen in the future but it just means that there is one more hurdle to address before we might be able to get a rail branch line to Mt Roskill.
For the record, this is the response I received from the NZTA on why Dominion Rd is in the same situation.
The answer to your question is that at the time, a conscious decision was made to not spend additional money time given the long term nature of any rail development. This decision was made in conjunction with KiwiRail as were other decisions around the extent of future proofing along the SH20 corridor.
The massive tunnel boring machine that will be used to dig the tunnels at Waterview is on a ship and will be here in a couple of weeks time and the NZTA want to give it a name. A month or so ago they went out to school children to come up with some names which have since been short-listed and now they want the public to decide. Here is the NZTAs press release.
The world’s 10th largest tunnelling boring machine (TBM) is now on its way to Auckland to construct the city’s Waterview Connection tunnels – one of New Zealand’s most important transport links since the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge more than 50 years ago.
The huge machine left Guangzhou in south-east China yesterday and is due to arrive at the Ports of Auckland’s Waitemata terminal in two and a half weeks.
Because of its size, the machine has been broken down into 97 separate pieces, including 20 containers of small parts. It will be reassembled at the bottom of a 30 metre-deep trench in Owairaka before boring the twin 2.4km-long Waterview motorway tunnels.
The NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland and Northland State Highways Manager, Tommy Parker, says the Waterview Connection will link the Northwestern (SH16) and Southwestern (SH20) motorways to complete the Western Ring Route, one of the Government’s economically strategic roads of national importance.
“At $1.4b, it’s the biggest single roading project ever undertaken by the NZTA and, as the critical part of the Western Ring Route, will remove Auckland’s reliance on a single motorway corridor – State Highway 1 and the harbour bridge.
“We are planning to have traffic using the tunnels by the end of 2016, which will give Auckland the connected and cohesive motorway system it needs to support growth in the region, and to improve links between our neighbours in Northland and in Waikato/Bay of Plenty. It will be as important a catalyst for change as the opening of the harbour bridge was in 1959,” says Mr Parker.
When the TBM has landed, it will be trucked to Owairaka over a 10 day period. Some of the 97 loads will be oversize, and Mr Parker says that they will be moved through city streets overnight to keep disruption to traffic to a minimum.
The heaviest of these will be the 260 tonne main drive for the cutting head, while the largest will be the TBM’s 8.5m diameter main bearing.
The machine will be reassembled inside the motorway trench, onto a launch cradle with its massive cutting head facing north – the direction it will go when tunnelling starts at the end of October.
The re-assembly will take a team of 30 approximately three months to complete and will be overseen by members of the Well-Connected Alliance team who spent several months in China involved in the manufacture and assembly of the machine alongside German manufacturer Herrenknecht. The TBM was factory tested in March before being stripped down and packed ready for its voyage to Auckland.
It is the largest machine ever built for use in Australasia, and has been designed specifically for the local geology. The cutting head and shield at the front are as high as a four-storey building.
The machine is 87m long, almost the length of a rugby field. It comprises a 14.4 diameter rotating cutting head attached to the front of a 12-metre long shield, followed by three back-up cars, or gantries, that house all the equipment needed to operate it, remove excavated material and put in place the precast concrete rings that will line the two tunnels.
“Delivery and assembly of the TBM will be complex – the start of a construction process that will lift the development of New Zealand’s transport infrastructure to a whole new level,” Mr Parker says.
The one vital element not packed away on the ship is a name. Tunnellers’ superstition demands that a TBM is given a woman’s name before tunnelling commences, People are about to be asked to choose from four possible names short listed from over 500 put forward by Auckland primary school children for the Waterview TBM. The whole country is invited to help choose the name by voting online at www.stuff.co.nz. The winning name will be announced on Friday July 12.
To be honest none of the names really jump out at me but if there is one you like, make sure you go and vote.
Like the news of the government at last supporting the construction of the City Rail Link which leaked out yesterday, news is now becoming widespread that John Key will also announce some kind of fast tracking of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. I’m not going to speculate about the politics of these two announcements except to say that clearly various deals have been made in an attempt to get everyone both in government and in the Auckland Council to sing from the same song sheet. And that’s sweet ‘n’ all but really shouldn’t multiple billion dollar spending decisions be made a little more carefully than this?
Here at ATB we have shown before and here why any project to build additional traffic lanes across the Waitemata Harbour is not even an expensive luxury but actually an expensive disaster for both the city and the North Shore. Whatever scheme is proposed across the harbour it will cost multiple billions, and if it includes any more traffic lanes it will be even more expensive and worse than money wasted; it will be money wasted destructively.
The most recent cost benefit ratio from the NZTA is only 0.3 to 0.4 based on extremely dubious traffic volume predictions [page 49 here]. There is no money for this as all the other RoNS have left the cupboard bare for years into the future, especially in the context of a looming decline in income from fuel excise due to a drop off in driving. None of these predictions factor in other possible threat to their viability like international carbon reduction treaties or tariffs, or threats to oil supply or continued increase in liquid fuel cost beyond the government’s modest and optimistic expectations. There are any number of reasons why NZTA’s traffic predictions are likely to be too high which would quickly push the BCR quickly down from 0.3 to 0.2, 0.1 or much worse.
We have seen these predictions die in a ditch both here in NZ and recently on similar expensive road projects in Australia. Especially as any such tunnels will almost certainly have to involve tolling, and tolling on the existing route too, so they may end up with very few using it.
Then there are other issues particular to this project.
First there is the issue of the 4billion dollars we are still spending to complete the Western Ring Route. An alternative route that is yet to open.
Here from NZTA’s website:
What is the Western Ring Route?
The completed Western Ring Route will be a 48 kilometre motorway alternative to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge via SH20, SH16 and SH18. It will bypass the city to the west and link Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere, and North Shore cities.
Why is the Western Ring Route important?
Once completed and opened, the Western Ring Route will provide a bypass around the CBD for the large volume of traffic that travels across the region each day.
And this from the NZTA WRR Project Summary:
The Western Ring Route comprises the SH20, 16 and 18 motorway corridors. When complete it will consist of 48km of high quality motorway linking Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore Cities. It will provide a high quality alternative route to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and take unnecessary traffic away from Auckland’s CBD.
So, the claims go, once the huge tunnels and flyovers of the Waterview project and the widening of SH16 to nine lanes are done, then we can practically include the five lanes of the Upper Harbour Bridge as part of the motorway network. Fair enough. The ongoing WRR work then is a bit like the City Rail Link: connecting parts of an existing network for improve the usefullness of the whole. And it is all supposed to add up to traffic relief for the Harbour Bridge.
There will be really 13 traffic lanes instead of eight across the Harbour when the WRR is open then. Or do NZTA and the Government no longer believe this?
Now add the fact that vehicle volumes on the Harbour Bridge have not been growing as NZTA anticipated as we outlined here for the analysis:
Ak Harbour Bridge Traffic volumes
The red line is the Business Case by NZTA to justify the need for more roadspace, but as you can see it bears little relation to actual traffic demand. But won’t that grow soon as more people live in Auckland? Well not necessarily at all because in fact more people have been travelling across the Bridge but not driving their own cars but in buses. Here are the figures:
Furthermore there is more capacity to add buses to the Northern Busway and to considerably increase the numbers of people crossing to and from the North Shore. But what will eventually be required is a dedicated Rapid Transit Route which will both speed up Transit journeys and take some of this burden off the bridge.
But by just adding more traffic lanes we have the problem of what to do with additional lanes full of cars arriving in downtown. There is no space for any addition lanes through Spaghetti Junction to take them further through the motorway system, that is completely built out and at capacity, so they will all have to be dumped in the city. Anyone who has seen Fanshaw street or the other roads and city streets that lead to and from the Harbour Bridge at peak times know that there is absolutely no more space for more vehicles there.
There is also nowhere for thousands of more cars to be parked in the CBD, nor to circulate on city streets. In fact it is the declared policy of the Auckland Council to improve the quality of the whole of the central city with more Shared Spaces, sidewalk cafes, open spaces, more street trees and other improvements that are completely inconsistent with adding more cars to the mix; in fact they depend on lowering the numbers from where they are now.
To an important extent this is also true for the North Shore, spending billions on any means to encourage people to get into their cars and drive into the city will further clog up all the local roads and streets of the North Shore as they drive to the onramps. Yet the amount of traffic on these streets is already and expensive and ugly problem at rush hours.
Also parking costs can only rise with this increased demand even if more capital and land wasting car parking buildings are built, which, along with the tolls needed for the new crossing so it is unlikely that enough drivers will actually materialise to satisfy NZTA’s made up numbers.
Furthermore there are absolutely no capacity problems on the Bridge nor its approaches at any time other than at the work day peaks. This is a commuter issue only and while it may seem intuitive that adding more lanes across the Harbour would help commuters in fact it will not, and any more capacity will sit wastefully and expensively idle outside of these times. What would help commuters and other motorway users alike is a higher capacity, fast, and attractive commuter route across the harbour without the additional costs and dis-benefits of having to take your car with you and move it around and expensively store it in the city.
Now that the City Rail Link is a certainty, we know that once built, travel to the city by ferry, bus, bike, and train will be a whole lot more viable, because once there moving through or out of the city in another direction will be a whole lot easier. And because there is still a great deal of capacity in the Northern Busway, especially with the new Double Decker buses, the important thing to plan for is to link the North Shore and the City together for those commuters in the best way possible way.
While this could be bus tunnels we would still be faced with the problem of what to do with all the buses once they are in the city and because of the width and height of the tunnels required to handle buses and the technology to deal with the diesel fumes this is unlikely to offer a cost saving over building rail tunnels and their connections.
Rail that can link the new Aotea Station west under Wellesley St down to a new Wynyard Station for the growing demand at that end of the waterfront, then under the Harbour to a new Onewa Station then along side the motorway to a big bus interchange station at Akoranga then continuing to terminate at Takapuna Metropolitan Centre:
Aotea to Takapuna line
This project would seamlessly add huge capacity especially for the peaks without adding stress and cost to street level and parking amenity. It would allow city and North Shore roads to still function well for those who choose or need to drive. So the important conclusion is that adding the missing Rapid Transit link across the Harbour is the best outcome for commuters and road users alike. Adding more lanes to parts of cities is not the best way to improve driving.
In short it matters just as much what we don’t build as what we do. And John Key might feel more loved the more he promises everything anyone wants but really it’s the government’s job to be rational and not give in to demands for destructive projects, like anymore road lanes across the Waitemata. And similarly Len Brown may feel he needs to give in to this project in order to get his more vital and transformative rail projects approved, but that too is not supported by the facts, especially as this project actively works against his own policy to increase the quality of place and ‘livability’ of the whole City.
Incidentally this North Shore rail line is a very good fit with the Skypath walking and cycling addition to the Bridge; visitors to the city can choose to walk and ride one way across the Bridge and if they prefer, jump on the train at either Onewa or Wynyard Stations for the return journey. Then we would have a Harbour with all modes able to cross it, like the original inspiration for our Harbour Bridge:
Sydney Harbour Bridge
First Crossing of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Sam Hood.
As I have mentioned before, Waterview is a roading project that I do support, unlike many of the dubious roading projects both nationally, and locally. Whether you like it or not, it is under construction and in time is likely to have a massive impact on the city and as discussed previously, in some ways it will probably even be useful for the CRL. At $1.4 billion the project is dubbed the most expensive roading project ever undertaken in New Zealand and the NZTA have released some images of progress so far on the project. While the majority of the project is actually underground where it won’t be seen, the sections above ground help to show just how massive the project is.
Northern portal works
Northern Portal Works
Looking North with Maioro St in the foreground
A closer look at Maioro St (front) and Richardson Rd (rear)
The TBM starts here – The trench at the southern end
There are many similarities between the Waterview motorway project the City Rail Link. Both are extremely large projects involving considerable amounts of tunnelling but the comparisons don’t stop there. While there are very clearly a lot of other motorway and rail projects being bandied about, both projects effectively complete their respective networks allowing us to get the most out of our existing investments in them. With Waterview now well under way, I thought it might be a good idea to see if there was anything we can learn from it to help with the CRL.
The first area where Waterview could provide some useful benefits is in the area of tunnelling. While the massive TBM that is being used on Waterview is way too big for the CRL, my guess is that the engineering and construction knowledge gained by local agencies and companies will be invaluable when it comes time to build the CRL. This is especially the case as the two projects almost perfectly dovetail into each other. Waterview is under construction now with the tunnelling itself expected to start around October of this year and completed in 2016. If the CRL sticks to its current schedule of being operational in 2020, construction on the project is likely to start in 2015 but really ramping up in the 2016-2019 period as shown in the graph below from the original business case.
When it comes to promoting the project, the cost is perhaps another area that we could learn a lot from. Back in 2008, when the previous Labour government were starting to get serious about Waterview, the cost of the project was reported at $1.89 billion for a pair of twin lane tunnels. To build it wide enough for three lanes, as was being pushed by the roading lobbies was projected to cost $2.14 billion.
Also interesting to note that back then then National Party spokesperson, Maurice Williamson, said he doubted we could afford $1.9b on a single project through traditional financing methods as it would deprive the rest of the country of investment yet less than a year later the party embarked on the RoNS programme, which included Waterview and that it is set to cost the country ~$10 billion over a decade.
“I don’t think the Government could ever fund a $1.9 billion road from just straight land transport funding,” Mr Williamson said. “That would mean the rest of the country would get nothing for nearly three years, so you have go to find an alternative source of funding.”
Back to Waterview, six months later in early 2009, following more work done on the project by treasury and the MoT the cost had ballooned to $2.77 billion for the two lane option and $3.16 billion for the three lane option. This caused then transport minister Steven Joyce to send the NZTA back to the drawing board and look at other options. Also worth noting that he quite clearly stated that he wanted to see the tunnels with three lanes each.
Serious doubt has engulfed Auckland’s Waterview motorway tunnels project – the vital last link in the western ring route – after a cost blowout to between $2.77 billion and $3.16 billion.
The Government has ordered an urgent review of route options after the Treasury and Ministry of Transport added financing costs of more than $500 million and an upgrade of the nearby Northwestern Motorway for $240 million to the main project.
Previous estimates of $1.89 billion for two-lane tunnels each way along the 4.5km Waterview route or $2.14 billion for three-lane links – as sought by the Automobile Association and business groups – did not include any of those costs. The new estimates are $2.77 billion for a 3.2km pair of two-lane tunnels and $3.16 billion for three lanes in each direction.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce announced yesterday that he had given officials until April to review all options for a connection of State Highway 20 to the Northwestern at Waterview, including a potentially disruptive surface route through Mt Albert and previously discarded “cut and cover” proposals.
Going from a proposal of two lane tunnels at $1.9 billion to three lane tunnels at a cost of $3.2 billion represents an absolutely massive price increase. By late 2010, despite being a three lane tunnel option, the cost of the project was back down below $2 billion at $1.75 billion. Fast forward to today and the project is being built $1.4 billion with the causeway project coming in at an extra $220 million. That means that all up both the Waterview project, and the causeway are costing ~$1.6 billion, almost $300 million less than just what the two lane tunnels were expected to cost roughly 5 years ago.
Why have the costs come down so much being almost half of what they were at their peak? I believe much of it relates to how we estimate these types of projects. As a project moves through the stages of investigation, costs tend to increase as all of the potential issues/risks start to get thought through and these start to get factored in to the cost of the project. As the knowledge of the project improves, many of the risks can be addressed and this can give some certainty about how much the project will ultimately cost. Such a big project should hopefully also cause construction companies to be extremely competitive in the tendering process.
So how does this relate to the CRL? Well it’s going through exactly the same process. Back in 2009 it was estimated to cost $1-$1.5 billion. The November 2010 business case, came in well over that figure at $2.4 billion, as seen in the construction cost summary. Most interesting is that the construction costs alone come in at less than $1 billion but the rest of the $2.4 billion is made up of contractor costs, design and planning costs as well as factoring for various risks. The cost of the project was the one area that both Auckland Transport and the Government agreed on when the latter reviewed the business case in 2011.
For planning documents Auckland Transport then inflation adjusted the price out to when it would be built which saw the cost increase further to $2.86 billion. However critically it also emerged that Auckland Transport had already managed to find over $150 million in savings off the base cost as shown below.
Why is all of this so important? Well based on what we saw with Waterview, it is likely that the actual cost of the project will end up coming in much less than the $2.86 billion that opponents (and AT) like to throw around. A figure somewhere in the $1.5 – $2 billion mark is perhaps much more likely and would have an absolutely massive impact on the viability of the project. In fact it seems that despite the governments continued opposition to the project, we may have missed an extremely important milestone. Subtly the conversation has actually shifted from “if” to “when” with the government and MoT now seemingly focusing on the timing of when it should happen rather than if it should happen at all. If costs continue to come down, like they did with Waterview then it only help to further justify the project.
The massive tunnel boring machine that will be used to dig the tunnels at Waterview has been officially handed over to the companies working on the project. When looking at pictures, it can be hard to realise just how big this thing will be. The machine is enormous, with the cutting head measuring 14.5m wide and the entire machine just under 100m in length. The NZTA say it is the 10th largest of its kind every built. I’m hoping that we well get a chance to have a look at it up close before it starts eating its way underground.
You can read more about it in the NZTAs press release.
And another image of it
I know that many people that read this blog aren’t supportive of new motorways however I do like the project. I can see the new connection being very useful for a lot of people. Perhaps more importantly I hope that long term it represents the final major motorway project in the city, after which we can properly focus all of our efforts on improving alternative options.
I know some have also questioned if the TBM can be used for other projects, like the CRL. The answer to that is no. After a project these machines are normally worn out. Also the Herald reports this morning that the NZTA have sold the machine back to the manufacturer after the project for 20% of its purchase price of ~$50m and they will reuse some of the parts. There is another factor too, this machine is much larger than what we need for the CRL where the TBMs are proposed to be around 7m in diameter. Even digging two tunnels, like what is proposed for the CRL, it would likely be much cheaper than than using one giant one due to there being less than half the amount of rock to have to deal with. The image below shows the surface area of the Waterview TBM in blue with the proposed the CRL tunnels in grey.
And finally, if you don’t know how these machines work, here is a video
Last week there was a fairly detailed article in the NZ Herald discussing progress on construction of the Waterview Connection project. Some key things pointed out in the article relate to the fairly substantial progress made on the project in the last few months:
Diggers, drilling rigs and dump trucks from a Fletcher Construction-led alliance of Transport Agency contractors have transformed much of Alan Wood Reserve in Owairaka since January last year into a pitted brown moonscape, alleviated for now only by newly-planted native shrubs on the banks of a realigned section of Oakley Creek, and the first of two football pitches to be re-located behind security fences off Valonia St.
The site will host an extension of the Southwestern Motorway for more than 2km above ground from a new bridge already built at Maioro St in New Windsor and under another quickly taking shape on Richardson Rd, before disappearing into a pair of tunnels which will run 2.4km to Waterview from what will be left of the reserve.
Although work was slower to start at the Waterview end of the project, that has recently been levelled with the demolition or removal of about 90 mainly state houses to make way for traffic to resurface before rising on curving ramps to a multi-layered interchange with the Northwestern Motorway.
The demolitions and re-housing of residents have allowed Waterview Reserve to be moved west to make way for a slew of cranes. They are this month starting to construct a giant motorway trench by ramming concrete slurry into the ground to form the walls before earth is scooped out between them, behind 3.5m noise barriers on the project’s border along Great North Rd with Waterview Primary School.
It seems like the sheer scale of the works, although well understood by the local community through the consenting process, has still come as something of a shock in reality. The scale seems to have surprised Russell Brown from Public Address (a fellow Pt Chev resident) as well:
Through all the furore about how and where the western ring route would be completed and what would run under and over the ground, hardly anyone really understood how bloody big this thing is going to be. It’s now becoming apparent.
I’ve gained some sort of insight in recent weeks by cycling around the north and south ends of of the planned 2.8km tunnel. Even the preparatory works are vast. And the feature pic on this Waterview Connection fan page (shouldn’t it have an anthropomorphised personal Twitter account too?) made me do a double-take.
A couple of Russell’s photo’s really highlights the change in local landscape that has already resulted from the construction activity. First the southern end around Maioro Street (click for larger):
And the northern end near the existing Waterview interchange alongside Great North Road:
Following construction of the project is going to be an interesting process as while there will be a lot of visible change at each end initially (as shown in the photos above) and change continuing at the northern end while all the ramps for the Waterview interchange are constructed, most of the activity will be occurring underground so I’m guessing that for a lot of the time it’ll probably seem like hardly anything is actually taking place.
Final completion is not expected until 2017 and once this project is built it will be very interesting to see what impacts it has on traffic volumes around Auckland – with State Highway 1 finally having a proper bypass and presumably a lot of traffic no longer needing to use current arterial road routes to make the connections that the Waterview tunnel will provide. Construction of the final piece in Auckland’s motorway system jigsaw puzzle is now most definitely underway.
Here at the Auckland Transport Blog we have finally found a road project that seems more unwarranted than either Puhoi-to-Wellsford or Transmission Gully. This is a road project that costs more than both of those two premature white elephants combined. Yes, we’re talking about the “Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Project“.
We often hear how important and urgent it is for Auckland to get another crossing over the Waitemata. This message is usually swaddled in one or more of the following soothing spoken reasons:
- Congestion is bad, i.e. your valuable blogging time is being wasted.
- The clip-ons are going to fall off, i.e. you better learn to swim.
- It’s always been in the plans, i.e. you can’t stop it now.
Let’s consider each of these arguments in turn and see whether they hold much sway.
First, the sweet smell of congestion – that addictive road building tonic that both demonstrates the folly of designing cities around private vehicles, while simultaneously providing the justification for continued investment in private vehicles. This is the same circular logic that entrapped the entire city of Los Angeles for decades, and which still seems to prevail within the MoT and NZTA. The thing with congestion is that you can never beat it by building more roads – investing in the latter usually simply enables congestion to grow back, it’s like NZTA want to spray water onto the mould that covers the bathroom ceiling.
Moving along – the particularly interesting thing about congestion in this corridor is that we as a society has just invested in:
- The Northern Busway, which provides an extraordinarily successful (given the prevailing lack of development around stations) and relatively congestion-free public transport corridor that runs in parallel with SH1. From what I can tell (back of envelope numbers) the Northern Express is now operating at close to full cost recovery. Further only being a fraction of the vehicles that cross the bridge, around a third of all people heading southbound in the morning peak do so on a bus. This graph from ARTA is a couple of years old but shows how quickly the situation is changing thanks to developments like the busway. There is still a lot we can do to further improve the bus experience for Aucklanders, especially on the city side through improved bus lanes and facilities.
- The Western Ring Route, which (when complete) will provide an alternative route for some vehicle trips. From what I know, transport modelling predicts a drop of about 5,000-10,000 vpd on the bridge when Waterview is complete. As such, the WRR could reduce vehicle volumes on the existing Harbour Bridge by around 5%. Not huge, but probably enough to noticeably reduce congestion.
Conclusion #1: Together the Northern Busway and the Western Ring Route are the main congestion safety valves that Auckland needs across the Waitemata.
Second, we accept that the clip-ons may fall off when a continuous line of fully laden 40+ tonne trucks comes to a grinding halt on the bridge while being buffeted by hurricane force winds. Yes, the next time we have a hurricane that prompts some kind of lemming like heavy vehicle pilgrimage (which for some reason ends up stopping on the Harbour Bridge) then the clip-ons may become pontoons. But does it necessarily follow that we should spend $5 billion on a new crossing? Not really, if you consider the following options as being alternatives to a new crossing:
- Ban heavy vehicles from using the bridge in high winds; or
- Restrict heavy vehicles to using the main span of the bridge; or
- Require heavy vehicles to divert via the aforementioned Western Ring Route.
Some of these management techniques have already been used in the past so they wouldn’t be something new. Conclusion #2: Ultimately there seems to be at least three more effective ways of extending the life of the clip-ons (perhaps indefinitely) that helps us to avoid spending $5 billion on another crossing.
Third but not least, we come to the suggestion that “it’s always been in the plans.” To understand this argument we tried having a look at the plans. The latest ones came out in 2010, when NZTA last considered the merits of the project. This included preparing some detailed drawings of how it could work and a Business Case that analysed the costs and benefits of a bridge option and a tunnel option. The cost-benefit ratio for the two options are shown in the box below, which is found on page 65 of the business case document:
With a capital cost of close to $5 billion for the tunnel option, this would mean a return of around $1.5 billion excluding agglomeration benefits or $2 billion including them (using undiscounted figures). So pretty much the same as getting $3-3.5 billion and burning it. Now you don’t have to be an economist to know that this analysis is suggesting that this project is morse code for “absurd waste of money”.
Conclusion #3: If the additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing has always been “in the plans” then we’d just respond that it damn well shouldn’t be. Or perhaps more accurately: Just because something was a bad idea in the past, doesn’t mean it will be a good idea in the future.
At this stage some of you may be thinking “case closed” – let’s strike that project off the list and move on. But wait there’s even more to this post: When reading the NZTA’s Business Case we found, how shall we say this, ”questionable” assumptions about future growth in vehicle volumes. But before going into them its time for a little pop quiz, if you are modelling traffic flows in 2010 to predict future vehicle volumes do you:
a) base it off the currently available numbers
b) ignore what actually happened and use a model to predict what the numbers were
Here are the numbers that were used which comes from page 10 of the business case:
The important thing is the 2008 numbers seem to have been generated by a traffic model, because they do not match what was actually observed. For example, the NZTA’s own numbers for 2008 say there were only a average of 154,925 vehicles per day that crossed the bridge, a difference of over 13,000. The difference in the volumes can be easily seen from the graph below, which shows actual traffic volumes (green) and predicted traffic volumes (red).
There’s a couple of interesting things about this graph: The first (and most obvious) is that the modelled traffic volumes are approximately 10% higher than the actual volumes, even before the Business Case was released in 2010. Basically, the Business Case appears to be re-writing history by using traffic volumes that are higher than what was actually observed. Bizarre eh?
Personally, I would have thought that where you had a transport model that was predicting volumes that were 10% higher than the actual observed volumes then that would be reason to re-calibrate the model so that it more closely matched actual volumes, certainly before you did absolutely anything else with the outputs – let alone argue for us to spend $5 billion. Nevertheless, it seems (from what we can tell reading the Business Case) that the red line above was the one used in calculations of benefit-cost ratios, despite actual data showing that it was 10% off the mark from the outset (NB: A 10% difference in vehicle volumes makes a huge difference to congestion reduction benefits).
The next interesting thing is that based on the red line NZTA has (somehow) concluded that the next Waitemata Harbour Crossing is needed between 2020-2030, at which point they were expecting between 188,000-200,000 vehicles per day (vpd) over the bridge. If we take the mid-point of this range as defining the “critical threshold” then we can conclude that the current crossing arrangements is maxed out around 194,000 vpd. The figure below illustrates this critical threshold as the black dashed line. We have also extended the actual volumes (green) using the modeled traffic volumes (dashed green line). The latter sort of shows what you might expect to happen to vehicle volumes in the event that we returned to the modeled “trend” for the next 30 years.
We can see that even by 2041 the dashed green line stays below the dashed black line, i.e. we have not come close to hitting the “critical threshold” even by 2041. Stated simply, the reduction in vehicle volumes observed on the Harbour Bridge in the last 5 years or so seems to have bought us at least another 20 years when it comes to developing an additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. Why so much time? Well, because it will take us ten years to get back to the level we were 5-10 years ago. That’s why we now have so much time and why this project, if it’s needed at all, does not seem to be “urgent”.
With all this in mind I can’t understand why some people at NZTA (and certain politicians on the North Shore) seem to be pushing for an additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing to be constructed soon, like between 2020-2030. Surely the smartest thing to do before pushing this project along is to:
- Wait until we have completed a few projects that may impact on the need for this crossing; and
- Recalibrate the model and issue an updated business case incorporating revised traffic growth assumptions?
At this stage, not only does another road-based crossing of the Waitemata Harbour seem like an ineffective way to address the issues put forward, it also seems like it’s nowhere near as urgent as some people make out. I have no problem with long term planning for another crossing, but let’s not kid ourselves that it’s needed in the next 30 years. By crikey.